Survey of London: Volume 16, St Martin-in-The-Fields I: Charing Cross. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1935.
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CHAPTER 19: SITES OF NOS. 60–64, CHARING CROSS AND NOS. 3, 5, 7 AND 9, SPRING GARDENS
The sites of Nos. 60–64, Charing Cross, were comprised in two of the sales by George and Thomas Cole in 1618. The first, (fn. n1) which was to Henry Higgs, innkeeper, concerned "all that capitall messuage…comonly called… the Signe of the Meremayde, now in the tenure… of the said Henry Higgs… scituate… neere Charingcrosse." The other (fn. n2) was a sale to William Bingham of "all that tenemente wherein the said William Bingham now dwelleth… being neere Charingcrosse… conteinynge these roomes following, vizt., three lowe roomes uppon floore and one little yard lying on the North side of the same roomes, With one garrett lying over the two innermost low roomes, together with one Workehouse, heretofore a garden plott, on the West side of the Cartway leading into the Inne comonly called the meremayde, conteinyng in breadth from East to West aboute Fowreteene Foote and in length from North to south about Seaventeene Foote, and one little Shudd neare the said Workehouse conteinynge in length nyne Foote and in bredth seaven foote, together with one little yard or passage aboute Fower foote wyde betweene the said Workehouse and little Shudd."
Higgs' predecessor at The Mermaid was Henry Buntinge, and the ratebooks show that Higgs succeeded him in 1616. (fn. n3) Bingham built another house on his plot before his death in 1628, (fn. n4) and Higgs subsequently purchased both houses from his two daughters. (fn. n5) They are described in 1647 (fn. n6) as (i) a messuage containing "one shopp and a cellar next unto the streete there, and one Parlor behind the said shopp and Cellar, and one kitchin behind the said Parlor, and three lodging Chambers and one garrett," and (ii) a little messuage "scituate… in the yard called the Mearmayd yard… conteyning a Cellar and three roomes one over the other… in the tenure of one William Chapman… Taylor." The larger house of the two was occupied from 1665 to 1670 by Mark Rider, a fact which identifies this house as The Swan. (fn. n7)
The Mermaid is mentioned in connection with the riot of 27th December, 1641, (fn. n8) caused by Col. Lunsford's outrageous conduct in Westminster Hall. It lay back from the street, and the two Bingham houses seem to have been situated on the west side of the open courtyard of the inn. (fn. n9) This is how George Fox must have seen it when in 1654 he was brought up to London as a prisoner, and was lodged "at the Mermaid over against the Mews at Charing Cross." (fn. n10) The ratebooks show that Roger Higgs, Henry's son, was then the occupier. (fn. n11) In the following year he was succeeded by "Mr. Paine," who in 1660 gave way to "Mr. Mateland." His successors were Peter Demerell in 1663 and "Mr. Markham" in 1665. In 1667 the latter disappears, together with all reference to any highly-rated premises which can be identified with The Mermaid. In the course of that and subsequent years its place is taken by eleven houses of moderate assessment, seven of which in 1676 receive the distinctive appellation of Mermaid Court. (fn. n12)
The court was built by Roger Higgs, who, though no longer at The Mermaid, was the freeholder of the property. The formation of the court is probably to be connected with a petition (fn. n13) of Higgs in 1663 showing: "That in regard yor Petr is the Proprietor to certaine houses adioyning to ye old decayed Wall in the late Springe garden, And whereas there is a small peice of ground in yor Mats guift, as well whereon ye said Wall now standeth, as adioyning thereto, at prsent fitted for no other then Undecent Uses, wch ground also being so inconsiderable, both as to quantity & forme that it cannot begett in any other (except yor Peticonr whose Freehold adioynes thereto) a desire to be at ye greate charge of beautifieing the same …YorPetr… Prayes, That since it wilbe so advantagious to the place to build & make handsome fronts wth lights along the same wthout priudice to any, That yor Maty would be gratiously pleased to grant yor Petr yor Warrt …to invest yor Petr wth that small peice of ground… as well whereon the Wall now standeth from the gate comeing in at ye Redd Lyon yard to the Bulls head neer Charing Crosse & so much ground inward to make the Streete uniforme 34 foot broad, as it now is at ye comeing in at the gate." A constat was made in 1665 for a lease of the premises to Higgs for 51 years at an annual rent of £4 10s. to enable him "to build a Row of dwelling Houses from the Coyne of ye Spring Garden North Gate… One hundred & Seaventy foot in length extending to the South West corner of the… Bullhead Tavern… at the distance of about twelve foot from the said House corner Southward… and have ye benefitt of his Mats Wall… (being about 2 foot in breadth)… to build his Houses upon", but it was reported in 1703 (fn. n14) that although "the Buildings seem to be perfected according to that design" no such grant had passed the seal, and that "Mr. Higgs, son of ye said Roger Higgs" had stated that he held no such lease. The circumstances are peculiar in that Higgs certainly did not hold the freehold of the whole of the north side of Spring Gardens within the limits mentioned. The houses which he built fronting Spring Gardens, moreover, do not quite seem to fit the above description, consisting as they did of "five messuages…on the North side of a paved Court called… Mermaid Court, and fronting South on Spring Garden." They had, however, exits into Spring Gardens. (fn. n15) In 1719 they were connected with the latter by a passage, which was closed "at Ten of the Clock at night." These houses were sold (fn. n16) in that year by Charles Higgs to William Bell of Hampstead. They were later replaced by Nos. 3, 5, 7 and 9, Spring Gardens, which towards the end of the eighteenth century were in the possession of Conyers Dunlop. (fn. n17) The ratebook for 1746 shows Robert Taylor appearing in a house which in 1757 was merged with the adjoining house to the west to form what was afterwards numbered 34 in Spring Gardens (altered in 1866 to No. 3). In 1778 Taylor purchased the premises from Conyers Dunlop. (fn. n18) In the indenture the frontage to Spring Gardens is given as 37 feet 4 inches, and the abuttals are described as north, partly on the freeholds of Robert Taylor, Robert Blount and Sir Henry Cheere and partly on Mermaid Court; west, on the freeholds of Francis Plumer, Robert Taylor and Robert Blunt; and east, on the freehold of Conyers Dunlop and Mermaid Court. It was perhaps in this house that Taylor's son Michael Angelo Taylor (fn. n19) was born (fn. n20) in 1757, and there Taylor (then Sir Robert) (fn. n21) died in 1788. His widow continued to reside at the house until her death in 1803. (fn. n22) In 1805 "Dr. Maton" (fn. n23) is shown as occupying the house. He resided there for 30 years, dying on 30th March, 1835, "at his house in Spring Gardens, London." (fn. n24)
As has been seen above, The Mermaid disappears from the ratebooks in 1667. In the circumstances, therefore, the visit in April, 1669, of the King, with the Duke of York and many of the nobility, to "the Grand Plate lottery which, by his Majesties Command, was then Opened at the Sign of the Mermaid over-against the Mewes," (fn. n25) seems to raise a difficulty. It is probable, however, that the inn was still standing, although the extensive stabling and outhouses had been demolished. A notice, published a week later, shows that the lottery headquarters were still in the vicinity: "These are to give notice, That any persons who are desirous to farm any of the Counties within the Kingdom of England or Dominion of Wales, in order to the setting up of a Plate Lottery, or any other Lottery whatsoever; may repair to the Lottery Office, at Mr. Philips's House in Mermaid-Court, over against the Mews." (fn. n26) Benjamin Philips is shown by the ratebooks as occupying from 1667 to 1671 a house which is probably to be identified with the "little messuage" of William Chapman, mentioned above.
At what date the property was advanced throughout to the street frontage is difficult to say. It seems to have been done in two stages, and was certainly complete by 1715, but houses on the sites of Nos. 60 and 61 seem to have been in existence for some time previously.
In 1745 Hephzibah and Amicitia, widow and daughter of Charles Higgs "late of Hampstead…Esquire," sold (fn. n27) the premises to Henry Cheere, (fn. n28) statuary, under the description of "all that Messuage…Situate… on the South side of the High Street leading from Charing Cross to Pall Mall, against the Meuse, now in the Tenure…of Thomas Forrest (fn. n29) (which said Messuage…was heretofore divided into three Messuages)…And also all that Messuage…abutting East on the said Messuage …of…Thomas Forrest, and West upon Mermaid Court, now in the Tenure of John Le Roux, Watchmaker, And also all that Messuage…in the Tenure…of John Tudway, Tinman, Abutting East upon Mermaid Court…and West upon a Messuage…belonging to the said Hephzibah Higgs and Amicitia Higgs in the Tenure of George Heath, Brazier, And also a Back Messuage …Situate in Mermaid Court…lying behind the said Messuage…of… John Tudway, Which said Back Messuage…is now in the Tenure…of Francis Russell, Shoemaker, And also all that the said Messuage…in the tenure…of the said George Heath, (fn. n30) Abutting West upon a Messuage… belonging to the said Hephzibah Higgs and Amicitia Higgs in the Tenure of Martha Temple, Wax Chandler, And also all that the said Messuage… in the Tenure… of the said Martha Temple, And also all that Moiety of the Soil of the said Court called Mermaid Court And also so much of the Soil of the said Court… as belongs to…the said Hephzibah…and Amicitia Higgs."
An indenture of 1829 (fn. n31) specifies the occupants at that time as Francis Pontet the younger, William Lee, Thomas Jones, Charles Brigg and John Jacob Holtzapffel, and the ratebooks show that these were resident at Nos. 60–64, Charing Cross. Nos. 60 and 61 were sold by Henry Cheere on 25th March, 1865, to the Sun Fire Office, (fn. n32) who still occupy the site.